What does this mean? Certainly, the US government is not “shutdown” completely? It must have some money available to it to provide critical or essential services?
This is actually true. First, there is never a complete government “shutdown.” The term “shutdown” is used to described generally the loss of non-essential government services as a result of a failure of Congress to pass a budget or a continuing budget resolution. A government “shutdown” is more of a political tool than it is an actual shutdown. Although many employees of the government are affected and forced out of work during the “shutdown,” the government actually never shuts down completely.
In a government “shutdown”, there are two types of government services that continue to operate no matter what. One, those services that are deemed critical to national security, which in the context of immigration, includes the Department of State and its consular services. If you have an immigration petition for a visa that is in consular processing, your petition will proceed forward despite the government “shutdown.” The US State Department is considered to provide critical service that continue to be funded regardless of the Congress’s actions on the continuing budget resolution. Your consular processing will continue for the second reason as well: it is self-funding, meaning that visa processing fees cover the cost of visa processing.
This is also why your application with USCIS will continue to be processed in a government “shutdown.” According to a statement by USCIS, “fee-for-service activities performed by USCIS are not affected by a lapse in annual appropriated funding.” Almost all of the applications filed with USCIS are self-funding, meaning that the fees you pay to USVIS when you file your application are sufficient to cover the budget of USCIS, which is one of the few government organizations that is entirely self-funded by processing fees.
So, if you are thinking about filing a visa application/petition with USCIS, you should not hesitate due to the government “shutdown.” Your application will process normally even though the government is “shutdown.” USCIA and the State Department continue doing business as usual during a budget crisis like the current government shutdown.